The visual system created by Jaanika Peerna is essentially based on lines. Her lines are very simple, yet it has taken the artist years to refine this method of working. Astonishingly, her marks seem to be alive, while becoming more beautiful, free, and powerful over time—they leave the surface of the paper and reach into a three-dimensional space to take the forms of water, ice or vapour all the while becoming a metaphor for something else.
Abstract art is the culmination of the modernist art movement of the twentieth century; artists in the 1940s and 50s powerfully represented this in the USA, backed by critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg. With the ironic wave of postmodernism in the 1980s, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme and abstractionism has had little to say to the return of sociocritical and figurative art. By the beginning of 21st century a new generation of artists has arisen, and many are not interested in settling accounts with the past. They openly ask new questions, at some next, altered level.
Jaanika Peerna has honed her aesthetic approach over the years these changes have happened in the art world. She has lived in different countries and experienced various political regimes. In November 2014, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was celebrated—it was not only the physical wall that fell but also the mental one built by a totalitarian society. Estonian artists of this generation have experienced both worlds: the one existing before the fall of communism and another one after. They have gone through the educational system of both eras. Despite the turmoil, this did prepare the young artist for two completely different societies. The synthesis had to take place inside the artist as there was an inherent wish to tell the world something that only she could say.
Peerna obtained her first higher degree in visual arts education in Tallinn, Estonia. Her studies back then were characterized by considerably conservative methods that did not support abstractionism. When Estonia regained its independence, Peerna went on to study at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland; and later on she acquired a Masters of Fine Art from the State University of New York in New Paltz, New York, USA, in a unique program that combined photography, graphic art, and new media. This program no longer exists.
There is still something in the art life of Tallinn that Jaanika Peerna's work builds upon. Female graphic artists played a prominent role in Estonian artistic life from the 1960s through the 1980s. Their work was characterized by sensitivity, animatedness, introspection and contemplation, and it turned away from the representation of violence. As a result of these artists' silent consensus, this worked as a unique form of passive resistance to the ruling totalitarianism. Such art was political without announcing its politics.
Marju Mutsu, one of the most influential graphic artists in Estonia, created small-format poetic works that were inspired by nature and cultural references. Mutsu's artwork influenced the emotions of people of various generations. Other known female graphic artists in Estonia include Naima Neidre, Silvi Liivat, Evi Tihemets, Virge Jõekalda, Anu Kalm, and Ülle Marks. Ülle Marks' artwork took the largest forms and the most abstract expression.
This group of artists silently valorized Immanuel Kant and his aesthetics. In the eyes of artists, Kant helped to confront the dominant theories of Marxism and Leninism. It is well known that Kant came from Königsberg, now Kaliningrad. This was the military zone where young male art historians were sent to serve in the Soviet army in the 1980s.
Jaanika Peerna's performances and large scale installations have first and foremost grown out of this tradition in graphic art. While uniting the sounds of nature, corporeality, and choreography with her fine arts education, Peerna transcends the borders of traditional illustrative art while still staying in touch with it.
Similar to the way contemporary radical painters rethink various categories in order to deconstruct the art of painting, Jaanika Peerna has transformed the art of drawing. The feeling of freedom as a separate quality has gradually increased in Peerna's work. Inspired by the experience of natural tones and music that the artist has chosen to accompany her videos and her live drawing performances, she fully enters a specific energy or state of being. This seems to be an inevitable prerequisite for completing each piece.
As a viewer, please look at these works closely. Here one's eye can easily keep moving along infinite courses, meetings and crossings of lines. With the special soft pencils the line becomes almost material and starts expressing life, birth, activity—that is, nearly everything. Beholding these artworks is an aesthetic pleasure. No matter their format or technique, the pieces convey peace and a feeling of security that are both rare qualities in our contemporary world.
The micropolitics of the art system created by Jaanika Peerna starts to protect individual freedom while gradually extending its degree and cleansing mental atmosphere. Thus, Peerna's tactics can be called mature – there is no fight in them against anything.
French philosopher Jacques Rancière reminds us of the necessity to go back to ethics in art, he doesn’t mean a blunt moralism. For Rancière, attending to beauty itself is a powerful political act. Jaanika Peerna's artwork silently functions exactly like this while supporting the expansion of a new ethical revolution and its distribution in every public space that her art has touched."
—Heie Treier, essay, Jaanika Peerna: Storms and Silences, Terra Nova Books, 2015